AG won't charge DCF workers in Dezirae Sheldon case
There is no evidence Rutland social workers improperly handled the case of Dezirae Sheldon, but Vermont's child welfare system needs substantial reform, Attorney General Bill Sorrell said Wednesday.
The 2-year-old died in February after her stepfather allegedly crushed her skull. The state Department for Children and Families has been criticized because Dezirae was returned to her mother's care after she was found to have two broken legs in February 2013.
Following her death, Vermont State Police conducted a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding DCF's investigation of Dezirae's situation. The Attorney General's Office reviewed that report to decide whether to file criminal charges against DCF workers.
"There was no evidence that any of the state or local employees involved in the case were acting in a manner contrary to what they thought was in the best interest of [Dezirae] at the time," Sorrell said in a news release.
The state police investigation examined two things: the DCF investigative process done in conjunction with the Rutland Police Department and the DCF case planning and review process done in conjunction with the Rutland County State's Attorney's office and attorneys for the child and her parents, which was approved by family court in Rutland.
If the workers had been found culpable, it likely would have been a charge of neglect of duty, according to the AG's office.
While Sorrell's office reviewed the report, three DCF workers had obtained attorneys, two through Defender General Matthew Valerio's office and one privately, Valerio said.
State law allows the defender general's office to represent state employees in cases where there is potential criminal liability, Valerio said.
Sorrell's review says the state should reform the system for protecting vulnerable children. He said he plans to propose several changes to the law, including relaxing privacy laws that prevent the public from understanding how DCF operates.
"Most immediately, the police, prosecutors, social workers and other agencies must improve their communication and sharing of information," Sorrell said.
He also recommends strengthening child cruelty laws.
Prosecutors need laws to help them with "all-too-common" cases in which a child is injured at home but it is hard to know which of multiple caregivers inflicted the injury, Sorrell said.
"Time and again we see cases that are not charged because the only adult witnesses to the event blame each other or are steadfast in their silence," Sorrell said.
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